Uniquely close and historic BMW partner delivers its latest everyday supercar

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At a time when the car industry is forced to contort and adapt on what often seems like a weekly basis, Alpina feels a more reassuring presence than ever.

After all, you’ll soon have the option of buying an SUV from Ferrari, there are already plenty of purely electric Porsches on the road and AMG will drop the cylinder count from eight not to six but four for its next super-saloon.

You’ll find subtle aero addenda dotted about the car, not least on the front splitter and upper windscreen edge. Even the windscreen wipers are modified to cope with up to 190mph.

Yet Alpina’s latest B3, tested here in Touring form, wants only to reprise the qualities for which the marque is known. Those being six amply blown cylinders, refined road manners to match a sumptuous interior, and an understated exterior underwritten by monumental performance.

The extent of that performance is something we’re all too keen to assess, not least because this is the first time that Alpina has taken a bona fide BMW M engine for its conversion of an regular BMW model. Alpina also has quiet hopes that the B3 will, for the first time in the company’s 55-year history, help bring total volumes for the brand to comfortably more than 2000 cars per year – useful at a time when development costs are rising fast.

It asks almost £70,000 for this Touring model, so any newcomers to the brand will expect a machine palpably more special than the BMW M340i Touring on which the car is based and something with even broader everyday appeal. It’s no simple task and the B3 Touring must also fend off similarly priced and excellent rivals in the Audi RS4 Avant and Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate.

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However, arguably this car’s most fierce competitor will come from the firm with which Alpina enjoys a unique relationship, to the extent that assembly lines are shared, as well as model blueprints, often years in advance of any public or media awareness. In 2022, BMW will offer its first ever M3 Touring.

Far from hurting sales, the belief of Alpina CEO Andreas Bovensiepen – son of founder Burkhard – is that the B3 Touring’s corporate cousin may in fact boost awareness for Alpina’s effort, particularly in the two years before the M car arrives. What we’ll discover now is whether you should even bother waiting for the canine-friendly M3 or whether you should head straight to Buchloe regardless.

The Alpina B3 line-up at a glance

Alpina’s line-up for its conversions of the G20-generation BMW 3 Series consists of the B3 tested here and the diesel-powered D3 S (which is somewhat confusingly named, because there will be no basic D3).

Breaking with tradition, both cars are now available with four-wheel drive only, but the decision to offer just a single transmission option – ZF’s eight-speed torque-converter – is unchanged from the previous generation of cars. In due course, we would expect a B3 S to appear with more power and torque, some subtle design changes, chassis tweaks and perhaps a more special exhaust system.

Alpina also tends to round off its B3 generations with something fruitier. In the past, there has even been a GT3-badged derivative designed for track driving.

Price £67,950 Power 456bhp Torque 516lb ft 0-60mph 3.8sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.3sec Fuel economy 28.2mpg CO2 emissions 228g/km 70-0mph 43.8m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - hero side

Alpina’s hallmark is how it marries ride comfort with the control and stability necessary for the German autobahns. This, and how its cars’ handling characteristics generally speak to the driver, instead of shouting. The last generation of B3 was compelling in these respects, and the new car aims to continue that form, only with the G20-generation M340i taken as its base.

Except for that engine. Here, the B3 uses the same 2993cc S58 straight six as the M3. This marks a departure for Alpina, and a useful one, not least because it no longer needs to recast a regular BMW engine block to take an extra turbocharger. The S58 is twin turbocharged from the outset, although Alpina fits smaller turbine housings and modifies the intake system to achieve its own balance of torque and response. The cooling capability is also beefed up and there are two additional external coolers along with Alpina’s enlarged intercooler and air ducts.

Test car wears optional 20in forged Classic alloys in place of the standardfit 19in items, which are cast. As well as being instantly recognisable, they also reduce unsprung mass by almost 14 kg

Where the old B3 made 424bhp, the new car is up to 456bhp. Its 516lb ft also makes this the most torque-rich 3.0-litre production motor ever made and precisely matches the 4.0-litre V8 of the C63 S. By comparison, the new M3 makes 479lb ft, even in pumped-up Competition guise.

To contain that torque, Alpina employs a reinforced eight-speed ZF torque-converter, usually reserved for its V8 models, which also uses parts from Rolls-Royce’s V12 driveline. It delivers the engine’s efforts variably to each axle and at the rear through an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, although in the interests of traction, the typical torque split is marginally less rear-biased than that of the M340i. Alpina also adds driveline-cooling NACA ducts to the underbody.

Elsewhere, Alpina stiffens some suspension parts, widens the tracks, reprograms the power steering and alters the steering geometry, not least by increasing by 1deg the level of negative camber on the front axle and fitting its own pivot bearings.

The suspension then uses specific Eibach springs controlled by the same dampers used by the M340i but reprogrammed. The bumpstops and anti-roll bars are also bespoke. We’ll elaborate on the various suspension settings in due course, but the range of parameters is broader than BMW offers and includes a unique Comfort Plus mode for long-distance drives.

All of this meets the road through ‘ALP’-marked Pirelli P Zero tyres – in either 19in or 20in sizes – whose sidewalls have been developed to deliver greater pliancy than their ever-so-slim sidewalls imply.


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - cabin

BMW has given Alpina an excellent canvas here, and it’s one upon which the trimmers in Buchloe work only lightly.

The most obvious addition for the B3 is the ultra-supple Lavalina leather (Bavarian and preserved without salt) stitched around the steering rim and airbag cover. It gives the driving environment an immediate lift, and Alpina’s optional CNC-milled aluminium paddle shifters, first seen on the old B4 S Edition 99, add to the rich tactility of the controls.

Aluminium paddles are a departure from Alpina’s traditional but awkward gearshift buttons. For £280, they feel lovely and add another layer of involvement

Alpina has also reskinned BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional instrument display in a fetching shade of blue with green highlights, although at least one tester was disappointed to find that the marque’s classic blue analogue dials, with their crisp orange needles, have now been consigned to history.

Where you go from here depends on your tastes and your budget. As standard, the B3 is fitted with BMW’s new generation of sports seats, which are well bolstered and trimmed in both Alcantara and a man-made Sensatec. The next rung up the ladder is Vernasca leather, although our car’s seats go still one better and are swathed in Merino leather, which is well worth the £1900 outlay.

Spend more and the dashboard can also be trimmed in Merino, for an overall effect that feels more 7 Series than 3 Series. It’s then possible to have the entire cabin upholstered in Lavalina, but to do so requires extraordinarily deep pockets and so is usually the preserve of the B5 Bi-Turbo or flagship Alpina B7 saloon. As for the hard surfaces, piano black is standard, although aluminium is a no-cost option and it’s possible to specify various rustic-feeling woods, including oak, maple and ash.

As for equipment, the B3 is well provisioned, just like its predecessor. However, our test car benefits from several useful cost options, and we would budget in the region of £5000 for a memorable level of opulence.

As for practicalities, the Touring’s 1510 litres of luggage space with the rear bench folded (at the touch of a button) betters that of alternatives from Mercedes, Audi and even Volvo. For more in this department, you’d have to upgrade into the realm of the Audi RS6, Mercedes-AMG E63 or B5 Bi-Turbo Touring. And as you’ll now discover, the same very much applies for performance.

Alpina B3 Touring infotainment and sat-nav

The B3 uses an Alpina-specific version of BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional, which pairs a 12.3in digital instrument display (featuring blue highlights) with a 10.3in central touchscreen that can also be controlled intuitively using the rotary controller atop the transmission tunnel.

Except for some menu options, such as one to set the tyre pressure monitor for high-speed driving, the system is identical to that in high-specification BMW models and therefore the best in this class. The graphics are especially crisp, and the fact that BMW has resisted the temptation to do away with physical switchgear for volume and the climate controls makes this an easy and safe system to use on the move.

Surprisingly, DAB radio is a £268 option and wireless charging for smartphones costs an extra £420. Apple CarPlay is also by subscription, although one year is included with the purchase of the car. However, Alpina does include Parking Assistant, which consists of Park Distance Control, front and rear, as well as Reversing Assistant and a rear-view camera. The B3 doesn’t feel awkwardly big, but these are still useful tools.


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - engine

The core appeal of any modern Alpina stems not just from the torque-fattened accessibility of its performance but also in the sheer scale of that performance relative to the comically demure exterior. So just how quick is this new B3 Touring?

Despite the fact that this figure would have sufficed for many a bona fide supercar not so long ago, the 3.8sec it takes the car to reach 60mph is largely irrelevant. As is the 8.7sec it takes for the B3 Touring to burst into triple figures, which, incidentally, is less than a second shy of what we recently achieved with the new twin-turbo V8-engined RS6 Avant – all 591bhp of it. The top speed of the B3 Touring, should you find an autobahn empty enough to make an attempt, is a conservative 186mph.

Its restrained appearance belies its potential to cover big miles very quickly, even in bad weather, while ensuring its driver remains comfortable and relaxed yet engaged.

Rather, to fully understand the car’s torque – 516lb ft available between 3000rpm and 4250rpm, but with a healthy 440lb ft lingering even at 5500rpm – you need to interrogate the telemetry data. The 1.7sec the B3 Touring takes to dispatch 40-60mph in third gear makes it quicker by this metric than the Porsche 911 Carrera S. The 2.1sec taken to devour 50-70mph in fourth beats the RS6. And from 60mph to 80mph in fifth, its time of 2.8sec is an exact match for the current BMW M5.

So if you’re wondering why the ZF gearbox can feel a little reluctant to downshift in the car’s default Comfort driving mode, the reason is because it simply doesn’t need to. This is an astonishingly quick 3 Series in the real world and one that requires less commitment to fully unleash than the M3 will surely demand.

If we have one reservation about the B3 Touring’s ability to rapidly escalate the numbers displayed on its digital speedo, it’s that the delivery remains somewhat boosty, with the surge of torque faithfully but very quickly building between 2400rpm and 3000rpm. However, the general effect is nothing if not exciting, and we’re happy to chalk it up as character, because even when everything this 3.0-litre M-division motor can give is fully undammed, traction and stability are total, on damp and dry roads alike.

Elsewhere, ZF’s transmission feels ideally suited to a car like this, being flawlessly quick in its shifts but every bit as smooth as you’d expect in normal driving. Perhaps it’s no surprise that M has chosen to deploy the same technology in the new M3, jettisoning the dual-clutcher preferred for the outgoing model.


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - cornering front

Alpina’s decision to offer the new B3 with proper gearshift paddles rather than buttons for the first time is convenient, because the truth is that you’re more likely to find yourself in the mood to take ‘manual’ control of this car than you were its predecessor. The steering isn’t quite as vivid as it was, but the direction changes it elicits are also crisper and better controlled and show the car’s superbly fluent roll rates.

The result is that while the B3 Touring has put on weight for this new generation (some 100kg), you’d barely know it without first perusing the technical data. Set the dampers to Sport and what follows is the realisation that no other red-hot estate at any price point is quite so intuitive and easy to drive fast on the public road. It makes you wonder how the M3 Touring is going to find some air space of its own, because one certainly doesn’t need anything more capable than this Alpina.

One thing I really like about this new B3 is how mature it feels on the move – like a B5-lite, minus the enormous body and with much sharper handling. That sense of solidity is one of the things that elevates the package.

But more entertaining, perhaps? Not necessarily. Although the B3 is so very satisfying to flow down B-roads at a canter, with its naturally paced and neatly weighted steering, there’s another layer to its handling that bubbles through as you up the ante, and it reveals a car that really does reward commitment.

Despite four-wheel drive, rarely if ever does the B3 feel prone to undue understeer, so its nose is keen, and there’s a distinct element of throttle adjustability that’s as surprising as it is enjoyable when you discover it. Then, on damp roads, the poise with which the car will take on modest angles while surging forward under the power of both axles feels nothing short of thoroughbred. The B3 is a car that flatters its driver with a combination of accuracy and composure, which together allow you to safely chase the throttle even in poor conditions and on tricky roads.

What the G20-generation B3 won’t do is the same level of lunacy you got with the old, rear-driven F80. That car would slide forever, which this one won’t. However, in terms of point-to-point pace, and in the context of an estate car destined for family life, the new car has its priorities just right.

One reason why the new B3 Touring beguiles is that, contrary to what you might think, the harder you drive this generously proportioned car, by and large the better it gets.

The Hill Route at Millbrook duly underscores how well conceived this chassis set-up is. The B3’s balance and body control allow it to generate jowl-tugging grip, but when that is exceeded, what comes next is only very gentle understeer followed, if you’re generous enough with the throttle, by oversteer. It’s the kind of behaviour that feels ideal in a road car aimed at serious drivers who’d like a blend of predictability and reward.

Only the removal of the front driveshafts would make this car more enjoyable, but even as it stands, the driveline clearly favours the rear axle, even when traction is ebbing away. The engine’s broad torque output is sensational, compressing the Hill Route like few cars can.

Alpina B3 Touring comfort and isolation

One avoidable penalty that’s easy to incur with any Alpina product concerns tyre pressure. The factory pressures for the B3 Touring are an eye-watering 3.4bar all round, which is to ensure safety in the event of travelling with four passengers aboard, plus luggage, and at the car’s official top speed. Of course, in the UK, there’s no need for such high pressures, but unless you reduce them to the recommended 2.7bar for sub-155mph driving, ride quality will inevitably suffer.

With the correct pressures, the B3 Touring is often sublimely laidback for a car with its performance potential. The chassis achieves this not by isolating you from the road surface entirely. Instead, it offers a reassuring sense of connection with the road through the steering and seats but rarely allows this to overspill into brittleness and reactivity. Layered above this feeling of crisp control, the suspension then permits surprisingly supple vertical body movements in the B3’s Alpina-unique Comfort Plus mode.

This setting dramatically relaxes the damper rates and is only really suitable for motorways and gentle A-roads, but it does work especially well in such environments.

Elsewhere, in the past, Alpina’s penchant for enormous wheels has on occasion proved its Achilles’ heel, both in terms of noise and low-speed ride quality. The G20 generation marks an improvement in this respect, and the B3 Touring proved only fractionally louder than the unusually refined RS4 at a cruise and quieter than BMW’s BMW M5.

Meanwhile, the low-speed ride remains alert but not outright reactive and more than acceptable, given the B3 Touring’s ultimate pace.


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - hero front

In case you were wondering, Alpina’s cars can be serviced at BMW dealers and are backed by a full warranty from the BMW UK mothership.

In everyday terms, the B3 is also unlikely to cause undue expense. Our touring runs returned economy in the region of 37mpg, which is a slight improvement on the old B3 saloon tested in 2013, is considerably better than the V8 C63 and just beats the V6-engined RS4 Avant. However, owners with lead in their boots may wish Alpina had enlarged the 59-litre BMW fuel tank, even if more than 460 miles on one fill-up is possible on the motorway.

Open the bonnet and you’ll find that the car’s original VIN – the one applied on the BMW production line in Regensburg, near Munich – has been crossed out and replaced by an Alpina-specific code.

As for residuals, Alpina is best judged by perusing the classifieds, rather than relying on any official forecasting-agency efforts. Simply, these are expensive cars but also cars that hold their value unusually well. Expect the B3 to be no different.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace


Alpina B3 Touring 2020 road test review - static

This magazine usually reserves coveted five-star verdicts for cars that profoundly change their particular game. There is little revolutionary about this new Alpina B3, but in Touring guise, the car’s collection of attributes are so compelling and appreciable that they exceed the sum of their parts.

The B3 Touring earns five stars because there is arguably no other car on sale that so successfully slathers its appeal across the realms of comfort, performance, practicality, engagement and – relative to the cars against which it competes – value for money. It is one sensationally well-rounded product. Alpina’s success stems from its ability to recognise what customers want from their cars.

Working to an old-school recipe, Alpina delivers its magnum opus

BMW’s latest 3 Series represents the finest base for an Alpina conversion since at least the E46 generation, if not the E30, but an extraordinarily potent engine and detail chassis engineering changes take the package to new heights of maturity and enjoyment. This is most obviously demonstrated in the way the new car is sweeter than its excellent predecessor not only on B-roads but also on motorways.

For those who like to drive their performance cars seven days a week and in all seasons, the B3 Touring is an especially rare gem.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Alpina B3 Touring First drives